Registed Nurses' Association of Ontario

Tips for surviving nights shifts

For many nurses, working night shifts will be a challenging reality at some point in their career.

Fighting against your body's natural rhythms to stay awake during the wee hours of the morning can take its toll, but there are steps you can take to keep your body and mind healthy during a stretch of nights, and avoiding the early-morning crash.

We asked some veteran RNs about what they recommend for preparing, surviving, and recuperating from night shifts. Here are some of their responses.

Stacey Brown

  1. Drinks lots of water before and during the shift to stay hydrated and prevent headaches. I personally try to stay up as late as possible the night before and sleep late the day of a night shift. Then I try and sneak in a late afternoon nap to avoid the 5 a.m. head bob.
  2. I also make no plans during the day before the shift (for example, no shopping and no appointments). Just have a low-key day at home to save energy for the long night ahead.

Brenda Hutton

  1. Bring light, healthy snacks such as fruit or nuts to eat during the night. Avoid junk food if possible. And take a nap on your night break.
  2. Try and get several hours of uninterrupted sleep after your shift. Turn off your phone and put a sign on your front door. Do not plan activities for when you wake up. Rest before your next shift as much as possible.
  3. Have a crock pot meal cooking while you sleep for the family dinner.

Paula Manuel

  1. Nap before work in a cool dark room. Taper water after midnight to decrease the frequency of waking up for bathroom trips. If possible, use ear plugs to minimize noise. Eat a balanced meal before work that includes a lean protein source.
  2. Coffee is okay, but keep in mind caffeine lingers long after you drain your mug.

Una Ferguson

  1. Keep your eating habits as healthy as possible. Try and not order pizza and snacks during the night. You need three healthy meals to keep you from getting run down and sick.
  2. Try meditation or yoga to unwind before sleeping. Use a sleep mask and white noise if you have difficulty sleeping during the day. Even a small light from a clock can be distracting. Also keep the bedroom at a cool temperature and invest in blackout curtains.
  3. Remember to enjoy family and friends on your days off to avoid getting into a rut and becoming asocial.

Read more about the rewards and challenges of shift work in the cover story from the March/April 2016 issue of Registered Nurse Journal.